This season has been a breakthrough period for several Portuguese talents and as usual, Benfica have continued their culture of producing gems from its famous Caixa Futebol Campus. One player who has been sensational since he was handed his debut for the club is 19-year-old attacking midfielder Joao Felix.
Felix was promoted to the first team earlier this season and has made some massive progress ever since. He had earlier broke the record for being the youngest player to debut for Benfica (B) and was also called up to the Portuguese Under-21 team at just 17 years. His meteoritic rise has seen him being touted as the next Rui Costa. Benfica fans believe he’ll follow the footsteps of former players Costa and Joao Pinto to become one of the best players to ever come through the club’s academy. He has thus far scored 11 goals and provided four assists in 27 appearances in all competitions this season.
Style of play;
Felix has been deployed as a central attacking-midfielder for most of the youth games even though he is best suited in the inside-forward role. In Benfica’s new system under coach Bruno Large, the youngster has been mostly deployed as the supporting striker in a 4-4-2 formation. In this way, he is able to roam in the attacking areas to provide the required link between the midfield and the attack. He often starts out wide before drifting into the central areas to finish attacking moves. In this case, his movements are one of his strongest weapons as a player.
Felix has been mostly compared to Costa but his style of player is very similar to AC Milan legend Ricardo Kaka. Just like the former Balon d’Or winner, the youngster possesses brilliant football intelligence, with an eye for goal and is also creative enough to set his teammates through on goal. He is the archetypal modern-day attacker capable of playing in literally every advanced position behind the central striker. This is what made Kaka be one of the finest midfielders in his prime -the ability to influence games on his own.
Strength and weaknesses;
Felix’s astounding abilities in front of goal is mainly a result of his brilliant spacial awareness and positioning. His ability to interpret and exploit spaces is instinctive and thus his greatest strength. The young Portuguese attacking-midfielder mostly starts on the left wing for Benfica as an inside-forward before drifting to the central areas. He often makes deep and late runs into the opposition box, anticipating for cutbacks.
At 19 years, he is already one of the most clinical finishers in the Primeira Liga. He can score different types of goals and also uses his heading abilities to good effect. He poses an aerial threat when in and around the penalty area. His hold up play when high up the field explains why he is viewed as an option in that centre forward position.
Creativity and vision
As an attacking-midfielder, Felix is also good at breaking the lines. This comes as no shock at all since he is blessed with brilliant technical abilities as well as good passing technique - the qualities required of a player operating in between the lines. He has a diverse range of passing and his vision and decision making in the final third makes him to be able to know the right time to execute that final pass.
He is also skilful enough to go directly against his marker which makes him a reliable option in 1v1 situations. He can create instability to the opposition’s defensive shape by trying to take on players before drawing out the entire defence with an exquisitely weighted pass. The most important thing is that he always seems to know the right timing, owing to his game intelligence and decision making.
The way Felix plays, one can hardly find any flaws in his game. This is just the beginning of his career and he has enough time to polish his strengths to set himself on par with other world class footballers. However, he can be overaggressive sometimes which can make him into committing unnecessary fouls. He has already picked over 10 yellow cards in his short career.
It will be unfair to start comparing the youngster to Portugal legend and five times Balon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo but that doesn’t prevent one from jumping into the Felix-hype train. He might be the biggest star coming out of Portugal since Ronaldo and there is no doubt his next club will be one of the biggest in Europe. Benfica are a selling club as much as they are experts in honing young talents at the Estadio da Luz. Benfica have made a sensational £230m from selling their academy graduates in the last 3 years. Barcelona, Liverpool, and Manchester United are believed to be interested in the young sensation.